Lesson 5 of 6
In Progress

Theological Themes in Hebrews


Atonement is the restoration of a relationship with God that has been broken by sin. According to the Old Testament, atonement was made when the high priest offered the blood of a bull and goat on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:1-34). Hebrews says that now Jesus the high priest has made atonement once for all by his sacrificial death and exaltation to heaven, where he intercedes on behalf of sinners (2:17-18; 4:14-5:10; 9:1-10:18).


Hebrews exhorts readers to hold fast to their confession of faith in Jesus, who is their hope for life now and in the future (3:1; 4:14; 10:23). A confession is a statement of faith that is shared by a community. By calling upon readers to hold on to the confession, the author also builds community, directing them to the faith that binds them to God and to each other.


For the author of Hebrews, faith has two dimensions: first, it means trust in the promises of God; second, it means faithfulness to God. Together, these two dimensions show what it means to live in authentic relationship to God.

New covenant

In Jeremiah 31:31-34, God promises to make a new covenant with people. Unlike the previous covenant, which people broke, the new covenant puts God’s law into people’s hearts and minds, promising that God will show mercy toward sinners. Hebrews announces that Jesus inaugurates the new covenant by sacrificing himself and being raised to God’s right hand (Hebrews 8:6-13; 10:14-18).


When speaking of “perfection,” the author of Hebrews does not imply that Christians must live a perfect life. Rather, the term points to the “completion” of God’s purposes. Jesus was made perfect by moving through suffering to glory at God’s right hand (2:10). Those who follow him move toward perfection by persevering in faith, knowing that they can be confident that God will bring promises of salvation to their full completion (10:14; 12:23).


Hebrews is unique among New Testament writings in its portrayal of Jesus as high priest. As a priest, Jesus makes a sacrifice of atonement for sin, shows compassion toward the weak, and intercedes for people with God (2:17-18; 4:14-5:10; 7:25). Jesus has some similarities to priests such as Aaron and Melchizedek, but Jesus is unique in that he alone serves forever through the power of his resurrection.


The promises of God express a commitment to bless God’s people. God promised Abraham a homeland and many descendants, but Abraham did not live to see the full realization of these promises (6:13-20; 11:8-16). The blessings that God promised to Abraham and his descendants–including the followers of Jesus–will be completely fulfilled in the heavenly Jerusalem, the homeland where the vast company of the redeemed celebrates in God’s presence (4:1; 12:22-24).


The sacrifices prescribed by the Old Testament involved the slaying of an animal and the offering of the animal’s blood to God. Hebrews compares Jesus’ death by crucifixion and his subsequent ascension into heaven as the two parts of this sacrificial process. Hebrews also argues that Jesus’ sacrifice is superior because it was his own self-sacrifice and it was done once for all time, instead of repeatedly, as was the case with animal sacrifices (4:14-5:10; 9:1-10:18).


Hebrews compares the Christian community to the generation that traveled through the wilderness on the way to the promised land (3:6-4:11). Christians are also like Abraham and Sarah, who lived in the promised land as if they were foreigners or temporary residents (11:8-16). Christians have received the promise of salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ, yet live by faith in a world where they are not entirely at home, confident that God has a future for them in God’s heavenly city (13:14).

Word of God

People know God because God has communicated through Israel’s prophets and again through the Son (1:1-4). Just as God’s creative word brought the world into being (11:3), God’s word of promise brings faith into being. The word is like a sword that penetrates the depths of human life and confronts people with the reality of divine judgment (4:12-13), yet the word also draws people forward in hope for the complete realization of God’s saving purposes.